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Confusing Standards: Common Misconceptions about Disease Surveillance Standards


Domains go through phases of existence, and the electronic disease surveillance domain is no different. This domain has gone from an experimental phase, where initial prototyping and research tried to define what was possible, to a utility phase where the focus was on determining what tools and data were solving problems for users, to an integration phase where disparate systems that solve individual problems are tied together to solve larger, more complex problems or solve existing problems more efficiently. With the integration phase comes the desire to standardize on many aspects of the problem across these tools, data sets, and organizations. This desire to standardize is based on the assumption that if all parties are using similar language or technology then it will be easier for users and developers to move them from one place to another.

Normally the challenge to the domain is deciding on a vocabulary or technology that allows seamless transitions between all involved. The disease surveillance domain has accomplished this by trying to use some existing standards, such as HL7, and trying to develop some of their own, such as chief complaint-based syndrome definitions. However, the standards that are commonly discussed in this domain are easily misunderstood. These misunderstandings are predominantly a communication and/or educational issue, but they do cause problems in the disease surveillance domain. With the increased use of these standards due to meaningful use initiatives, these problems will continue to grow and be repeated without improved understanding and better communication about standards.



This talk will point out the inconsistencies and misunderstandings of the word "standard". Specifically, it will discuss HL7, syndrome definitions, analytical algorithms, and disease surveillance systems.

Submitted by elamb on